Sunday, May 31, 2015

Believe It or Not: Silent Film Comedy Edition

Fact: Billy West, who was billed as "the foremost Chaplin impersonator," got the idea for The Kid before Chaplin did.
Review of The Genius, The Moving Picture World (August 11, 1917): "[West] finds himself obliged for the time being to assume the paternity of a child which is not his, and the equivocal situations in which this circumstance betrays him are full of humor and bustling mirth."
West cares for a child in The Genius (1917)
Fact: West was a stalwart in comedy films from 1916 to 1927, but he ended his days in Hollywood as a dramatic actor.

That's the funny West that audiences had seen for years.  Now, here, West plays a surly convict in the crime thriller Motive for Revenge (1935).

Fact: We are familiar with Tod Browning's circus side show drama, Freaks (1932), but it is little known that this shocking horror classic had been preceded by a slapstick-heavy circus side show comedy also named Freaks.

Freaks, a Joker comedy, was released on July 17, 1915.  Moving Picture World reported:
"Max Asher, Gale Henry and Milburn Moranti appear in this story of a circus side show.  The scenes are not very attractive, particularly in and about the mess tent.  Some of the situations are quite funny, though the production as a whole is only of about average merit."
An exhibitor complained, "[T]he leads made up as freaks are anything but pleasant to look at.  Milburn J. Moranti especially, as the human skeleton, is quite repelling."

Browning went on to show audiences what repelling really was.  His side show attractions also gathered in a tent to share a meal.  Many did not find this scene very attractive either.

There's at least one other thing that these films had in common.  The Joker comedy featured a strong man named Herculo.  The Browning film featured a strong man named Hercules.

Believe it or not.

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